March 15, 2015 by Julia
Trust Your Instincts
I started the day feeling a bit smug (never a good sign) because Delta and I had successfully found the rat in every practice Instinct and Novice run thru we’d done. I was far less nervous than I’ve ever been before going into a trial ring, more excited than nervous. I figured this would be a breeze and we’d probably end the day with one leg left to get our RATN (Novice) title.
But I forgot that the trial feels different to the dog too. The first two runs of the day I saw Delta find the rat but I hesitated, thinking “I’ll just wait another moment so I’m sure.” And she’d move on and sniff other things, then become interested in a second spot, which I’d promptly call. She’d always become “stuck” to the right tube when she found it in practice, but the trial was busier and had a lot more excited people and dogs. She was showing me the rat and then moving on to see what other interesting things were happening. I knew how to read my dog, but her shorter signal and my worry about being wrong stopped me. I had to trust my gut.
Stay Out of the Way
Besides setting your dog up on the starting box, the handler’s only required action in Barn Hunt is to call out “rat” when they believe their dog has indicated the location of the tube with the rat in it. The dog has to go through the hay tunnel and climb on a bale, but it doesn’t have to be at your direction. You can give your dog encouragement or direction, but that’s up to you.
My Barn Hunt handling strategy is a “less is more” approach. As much as possible, I try to keep my hands and my comments to myself. In a way, it is kind of liberating. My other activities are mostly driven by providing direction to my dog so letting her follow her instincts with minimal intervention is a welcome change of pace.
Watching other handlers was interesting. So many of us compete in other sports and most are more hands-on than I am. Many directed their dogs around the ring, some even (sadly) called their dogs off the rat to search elsewhere. I watched one woman literally point at her dog the entire run. She gave occasional direction but mostly her finger was a dowsing rod, pointing at her dog wherever it went. I doubt she realized it, so many of us have the habit of handling our dogs. It’s hard for us to stop “directing” what happens in the ring, I’m surprised at how much I am able to let go.
In our final and only qualifying run of the day, I let go of my girl, put my hands in my sweatshirt, and followed along. I gave her a little bit of direction (and commentary) when she started sniffing *outside* the ring, but tried not to chatter or tell her where to search.
From release to completion, Delta took 47:35 seconds and earned her 1st Novice leg with a pretty 2nd place ribbon as a bonus. It was a wonderful first trial experience.
What about you? Have you tried Barn Hunt? What’s your handling approach?
For those who haven’t tried and would like to, get out there. Even if you don’t have a typical “ratting” breed, any dog with some prey drive will do. Among the qualifiers this weekend were a Malamute, English Shepherd, and a Leonberger. The Malamute was the one who beat us for first place in the large dogs!
Fun side note: Delta turned 3 years old on Thursday & I shared this little gem on the blog’s Facebook page:
If you haven’t liked the page yet, head on over there for some everyday observations and silliness.